Celebrity Interviews: Will Smith on Muhammad Ali
   
 



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by
Jeff Usry


Some time ago, Laila Ali told her famous father, "the Champ," Muhammad Ali, that "Fresh Prince" Will Smith had the right stuff to play him on the big screen.

She said he was loud, brash, funny — engaging — he had all the right ingredients. So the Champ started watching the "Fresh Prince" television show and finally agreed with his daughter.

Now it’s up to Smith to see if he can float like a butterfly and sting like a bee at the box office to convince movie audiences that he is "The Greatest."

Smith says he was offered the role of arguably the greatest boxer of the 20th century six years ago, but at the time he felt it was too difficult of an undertaking.

"I mean how are you going to play Muhammad Ali?" Smith asks. "They sent the script over, and when I read it — it was overwhelming."

Smith says he met Ali two years later and they instantly hit it off.

The Champ said of Smith that the actor was "almost" pretty enough to play him in the bio-pic.

Smith says laughing, "I said, ‘Man, I’m too pretty to play you,’"

Now, with several more films under his belt and Ali’s blessing, Smith figured he had the chops to play the Champ on the big screen.

Prior to shooting the film, Smith explained that the crew retraced Ali’s early steps as boxing’s heavyweight champion of the world.

"We went to Africa," Smith says, "but we couldn’t go into the Congo because of the whole civil war thing."
Smith says "Ali’s" pre-production crew also visited the Champ’s Miami, New York and Chicago apartments before filming began.

"We’ll relived all his steps," Smith says. "Anglo Dundee over-saw my training, and Ali came by to watch. Plus Ali’s daughters gave us stories about their father. We really dove into his life."

Smith says the film covers Ali’s career from 1964 to 1974.

Smith went from 217 to 222 pounds for the role and took to his training so well that Dundee remarked he could have made the 33-year-old actor a boxing champion if he had come to him sooner for lessons.
"I went up to the weight that Ali was in 1974, so director Michael Mann could see me at that weight. He thought I looked great."

Smith says he didn’t use any kind of drugs to gain the needed poundage.

"I ate more often — probably seven times a day — and I drank protein shakes forever. Steroids mess with your balls…excuse me," Smith says with a wry laugh. "Actually, my body goes up fairly easily. And I go down easy too."

Smith says one of the many impressive things about Ali is how the Champ lives by the word of his God.

"That’s such a simple concept," Smith says, "People ask, ‘You read the Koran? You do what it says?’ It’s such a simple concept, but we all marvel at Ali's adherance to the word."

Smith says all religions give society rules to follow.

"This is really a basic concept we should all base our lives on," Smith says. "It’s just amazing that somebody actually does it."

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